Japa Workshop: Process, Techniques, and Methodology
Chanting, while mostly devotional, is also a technical process of meditation. This section will help you to understand more of what is involved and how to improve your japa meditation.
• Start from bead no.1; turning at bead no.108
• Turn each bead in the fingers.
• Don’t chant on or cross the larger bead where you start
One should note in this connection that chanting involves the activities of the upper and lower lips as well as the tongue. All three must be engaged in chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. The words “Hare Krishna” should be very distinctly pronounced and heard. Sometimes one mechanically produces a hissing sound instead of chanting with the proper pronunciation with the help of the lips and tongue. Chanting is very simple, but one must practice it seriously.
(Srila Prabhupada, Cc Adi 7.32 purport)
On one hand, there are different pronunciations throughout India and the sastra does state that the holy name is still effective even if improperly pronounced, but it is beneficial to concentrate and practice clear pronunciation.
Typical Faults :
‘H’ in Hare: sometimes dropped
‘A’ in Hare: mispron. ‘O’ as in Lorry; should be ‘uh’ as in Hurry.
‘R’ in Hare: sometimes sounds more like ‘D’
‘E’ in Hare: mispron. ‘I’ as in Bit; should be ‘ay’ as in Ray.
‘K’ in Krishna: sometimes sounds more like ‘G’ in Grip.
‘R’ in Krishna: sometimes dropped: ‘Kishna’
‘SH’ in Krishna: ‘G’ as in Genre (French pronunc.) or ‘S’ as in Snug.
‘N’ in Krishna: sometimes dropped: ‘Krisha’
‘A’ in Krishna: run together with the next Hare: ‘Krishna-ray’
Rama: be careful not to call out for Rum.
Sometimes with ‘Rama Rama Rama,’ you get the ‘revving-up-the-motorbike’ effect: ‘manar-manar-manar-manarrrr!’ (trying to chant too fast)
Chanting Speed :
• In the beginning you may be slow (around 10 minutes per round)
• It is important to practice proper pronunciation
• But in time you should naturally speed up (no more than 7 – 7½ minutes per round)
• Ultimately it is individual, but most devotees find that speeding up increases the intensity of their chanting and their concentration level
• If your rounds are taking too long, it could mean that you are distracted
• Try to maintain good, clear pronunciation with a good speed
• Some devotees can chant a round in 5 – 5½ min, but be careful not to lose the clarity of the syllables!
• One’s mental and physical state is affected by one’s bodily posture and can be altered by changing the posture. That is why practicing asanas is integral to the yogic process, which is a highly developed science.
• Importantly, you can affect the mind’s ability to concentrate.
• Remain peaceful, and accept the proper attitude by adopting certain postures
• Perhaps you have already experienced the difference between chanting sitting in a conventional chair (legs down) and sitting cross-legged
• Basically, sit cross-legged with a little extra support under your bottom. The back and neck should be erect in a straight line, the head up. Breathing should be deep and rhythmic.
• Discuss further with your tutor.
Common Pitfalls :
“Prajalpa-japa”: Unnecessarily talking while chanting
“Dive-bomb japa”: Falling asleep while chanting (head nodding off)
“Radar japa”: constantly looking all around the room
“Machine-gun japa”: much too fast while shaking the finger
“Jibber-japa”: it is just gibberish, no one can understand it
“Day-dreamjapa”: not concentrating, following the wandering mind
This is the most essential part of chanting: how attentive are you?
Imagine you are driving a car and you have a passenger sitting next to you. The passenger is continually pointing things out and trying to draw your attention to them: “Oh, look there’s a shoe sale on! Look at those nice shoes! … Ah, look at that guy with the funny hat! … Are those your gloves on the back seat? … Look out, no, no, turn left! Oh, I thought we had to go left. … Look at the TV shop – is that your favorite football team playing? … Uh-oh, check this out: there’s a guy getting arrested over there….” If you keep getting distracted by what your passenger is saying, you’re going to crash the car.
The passenger is like your mind, and driving the car is like chanting your rounds. If you keep talking to someone and they are continuously ignoring you, eventually you are just going to shut up. That is the best way to deal with the mind: just ignore it and keep your attention on “the road”, it will eventually shut up.
Keep a paper and pencil to note anything down that should not be forgotten. Then you can tell your mind that you will think about it later.
An Interesting Exercise :
Keep a list of all the subjects brought up by the mind during your japa and then review it at the end. Usually you can just throw away the whole list because you didn’t need to think about any of these things at all. It is a very graphic way of proving to yourself that you don’t need to take the mind so seriously (the mind won’t like that and will try to convince you that you should take it very seriously).
The Big Picture :
Now, chanting is not just about getting the technique right. It is important to not lose sight of the big picture. We are ultimately not independent of Krishna, and we must always humbly pray to Him and seek His shelter and guidance. In the larger picture, we must always see that we have to get to the platform of taste in our chanting and ultimately attain love for Krishna.
Your mood, attitude, or mentality is also very important while chanting. Chanting is not just a mechanical process. It must be accompanied with the appropriate feelings, performed for the right purpose, and with proper consciousness.
Enthusiasm/Great Eagerness: One should realize that love for Krishna is the ultimate goal. He should have total eagerness to attain it, even to the point of crying for it, like a baby. That is the price one must pay.
Prayerful: Remember that the maha-mantra is a prayer. Remember the meaning of the prayer, and offer it in a prayerful mood: a communication between you and God – a very personal experience.
Helpless/Dependent: A devotee feels helpless without the Lord’s mercy and dependent on the holy names. Example: small child and grown teenagers.
Humility/ Reverence: When we take darsan of the Deity, we must first take our shoes off, ring a bell, bow down, conch shells blow, the curtains are drawn – we are seeing the form of the Lord. The same respect and reverence should be given to the holy name.
Service: Chanting is a kind of service. It should be performed in a serving mood, serving the holy name by uttering it. Not that we are the master of Krishna, causing Him to manifest.
Grateful: Be thankful to the Lord for the mercy that He is bestowing upon you and all the fallen souls in the form of His holy name
Tolerant: All difficulties and obstacles of the mind must be tolerated. One may not have any taste for chanting or find the process hard to follow. All discomforts must be tolerated for Krishna’s satisfaction.
Patient: It may take a lot of practice before one gets better at chanting. One must patiently continue to endeavor. We are eternal, so there is no need to panic.
Determined: Never become discouraged. Always continue with determination knowing that success is ultimately guaranteed.
Important/Essential: Be conscious of the importance of this chanting process. Remember that it is essential to spiritual advancement.
Faithfully: We must cultivate our faith in the holy name, put our trust in it.
Please let me in: Ask Krishna to allow us to enter into the inner realizations of chanting the holy names.
Bhakti Dhira Damodar Swami